THE WORLD WAR TWO GROUP discussion

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message 1: by Meirav (new)

Meirav Rath I have to say some writers made my stomach turn (Steven Ambrose) while others really managed to capture my imagination (Richard Overy) and that's amungst the historians themselves. Who are your favorites and why?


message 2: by Patrick (last edited Dec 23, 2007 08:47AM) (new)

Patrick | 16 comments There are many, many good ones. I share your distaste for Ambrose's books.

One of my recent favorites is Russell Weigley, who wrote a classic called EISENHOWER'S LIEUTENANTS about the Allies' 1944-45 Europeans Theater campaign. He write it in the early 1970s, so the book suffers a bit from a lack of Soviet perspective on these events. But it is a fun read in most parts and very thorough.

I also enjoyed Richard B. Frank's book GUADALCANAL. Very thoroughly researched and well written, with plenty of coverage of the naval campaigns as well.

I am a huge fan of Barbara Tuchman's STILWELL AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN CHINA. Her book, written in the early 1970s, describes the efforts of the American general Vinegar Joe Stilwell to get the Chinese Nationalist government to support his efforts to organize, equip, and train regular Chinese forces to fight against the Japanese. Despite massive interference from the government of Chiang Kai-Shek and apathy from most British forces in India (before the arrival of Slim and Wingate), Stilwell achieved some success and led these Chinese troops against the Japanese forces in Burma (while at the same time getting critical assistance from the U. S. Merrill's Marauders and the British Wingate's Chindits, who are still bitter about Stilwell's treatment of them during and after the campaign). Tuchman's book inspired me to read a lot more about the events in the China-Burma-India theater in WWII, but I still like Tuchman as the best writer for this area of WWII history. I admit that she's way too biased in favor of Stilwell, though. He definitely caused a lot of his own problems, although I have tremendous respect for what he accomplished.

Great thread to start the group, Meirav!


message 3: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Great group and great topic, but I'm going to jump to the defense of Ambrose here. But maybe I'm just a simpleton...

I read Citizen Solider by Ambrose after college and that book kick-started my interest in history in general and WWII in particular. His style of writing and the way that he tells the story of the individual solider and the decision makers is very compelling. I thought D-Day was great as well.

I'm sensitive to the fact that Ambrose's telling is very "American-centric" and his later works were probably written more for the best seller list than any serious historian, but I think the way he made history more accessible should acknowledged.

Some other books I have enjoyed:
- Patton - A Genius for War by Carlos D'Este: a spectacular biography.
- Franklin and Winston by Jon Mecham: an interesting read on how the personal relationship between the two leaders helped forge the Alliance
- Barbarossa - Allan Clark: a very dense book on the Eastern Front with detailed discussion on troop movements, strategies, and generals, much of which was above my head, but interesting all the same.

I'm going to have to take a look at the two books Patrick has recommended as my reading of the Pacific Front has been very light.


message 4: by Ian (new)

Ian | 85 comments Re favourite authors. Not a great Ambrose fan, although I wouldn't dismiss him out of hand. I seem to remember he ran into a bit of bother over plagiarism.

Being British, my reading on WWII tends in that direction, although not exclusively! Carlos D'Este's biography of Eisenhower was great and I have just finished Hugh Sebag Montefiore's Dunkirk - an excellent book of particular interest to us Brits. Other authors I would recommend are Max Hastings two books, respectively,on the war against Germany & Japan. Although not about WWII per se, Antony Beevor's Battle for Spain is a good 'pre-quel'!

I must get hold of the Patton biography that Kevin mentioned.

Regards & Happy New Year to all.

Ian


message 5: by Patrick (last edited Dec 31, 2007 11:45AM) (new)

Patrick | 16 comments Ian and Kevin,

Glad you jined our little group! I am a big fan of Max Hasting's and Anthony Beevor's books, but I haven't read everything they've written. I read the Beevor book about the fall of Berlin - very good. And Hasting is a great writer, much better than Ambrose or James Bradley (the Flags of our Father guy).

Unbeknownst to me, Kevin, i responded to another thread that popped up here in the WWII buffs group and in my response I kind of slammed Ambrose, especially in that I lined to a Wikipedia article that gives more detail on the problem Ian alludes to.

Not looking to start a fight with anyone over Ambrose. In his defense, i really liked his books on Lewis and Clark and the transcontinental railroad (though the latter has some bad pubilcity associated with it as well). I also respect the work he did with the National D-Day museum in New Orleans. My take is - good guy whose heart is in the right place, challenegd historian who got incredibly lucky with HBO picking up Band of Brothers late in his life, and a writer who happened to specialize in field (WWII, Presidential Bios, western history) where so many other talented historians and authors also reside.

Finally, D'Este's Patton book is the best out there, for my money, and I've read everything I can find on Patton. I also highly recommend Jon T. Hoffman and Allan Millett for some equally good biographies on WWII officers, mainly from the US Marine Corps. That may be a bit too specialized for you guys, though...but there are of similar quality to D'Este on Patton.

Anyone here read the Nigel Hamilton bio on Montgomery or the D Clayton James books on MacArthur? Both are on my TO DO SOMEDAY list.


message 6: by Nathan (new)

Nathan (NathanHeller) | 1 comments I would like go agree with Kevin. I have very little training as a historian and stumbled onto a love of history late in my academic life. Ambrose may not be a 100% reliable historian but I think the way he makes history accessible is somewhat important to us laypeople or people new to 'studying' as a hobby.

That said, some of my other favorite history authors, and why:

- Richard Hack. He does really tabloidy, seedy and at times utterly curious books about nutjobs like Howard Hughes and J. Edgar Hoover. And I love him for it. I gladly read more serious works by other authors on the same subjects, and learn more, but they're never as fun as Hack's books. His biog on Hoover is particularly fun & nutty and includes coverage of Hoover during the war years.
- Christopher Browning. 'Ordinary Men - Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland' was required reading in one of my college classes and one of the only books I've ever read in my life that gave me nightmares.
- Robert Dallek - I was enthralled by Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power. Flawed Giant is on my to-read list. I haven't formed an opinion of Dallek as a whole yet, but I was fascinated the whole time I read Nixon & Kissinger.
- Gerard J. DeGroot's 'The Bomb - A Life' is possibly one of my favorite books of the last several years, and it starts with the end of WWII. I don't know if he applies 'cause I'm trying to restrict my favorite authors here to people who write about WWII or people who lived through WWII.
- Carolos D'Este's 'Eisenhower' I really enjoyed, but got side-tracked and never finished. (It's mammoth.) Reading some of the comments on here, I may go back to it, and also see if I can track down his book on Patton.
- Michael Beschloss - No idea of his historian credentials, but I got a lot of direction for other things to read just out of notes in The Conquerers, and thought the book itself was an enjoyable read, mostly.

I'd love to hear suggestions.

NC


message 7: by Ian (new)

Ian | 85 comments Re my earlier post. The Two Max Hastings books I mentioned are Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944 - 45 and Nemesis: The Battle for Japan 1944 - 45. He's also written a v. good history of the Korean War. Also recommend his Warriors - short bigraphies of fighting men including Eddie Rickenbacker,Audie Murphy and Joshua Chamberlain amongst others. Must hunt down the D'Este Patton.

Regards

Ian


message 8: by E.C. (new)

E.C. Blomstrand | 8 comments I think I have to break it this down into two categories: fiction and non-fiction.

Len Deighton- His non-fiction, like "Blitzkrieg", is well researched and accesible. His fiction, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. I've only read "SS/GB", but it left me disinclined to read more of his fiction.

Ian V. Hogg- I think reference works go largely unappreciated and his are among the best I've come across. He was also editor at Jane's for a number of years.

William Shirer- "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" is an exhausting but fully worthwhile endeavor. I heard "Berlin Diary" is also great. Has anyone read it?

To all who have not read "Maus 1 &2": set aside any preconceived notions (if any) regarding graphic novels and pick these books up. They are amazing depictions of Aushwitz that you will find yourself thinking about weeks after reading.




message 9: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 16 comments Ec, I've read most of these authors, or at least some of their work, and agree that these are good choices. I've never seen anything by Ian Hogg...what's a good book of his to start with? Anybody who is an editor at Jane's must really know their stuff!


message 10: by E.C. (new)

E.C. Blomstrand | 8 comments I think having well illustrated and indexed references is vital when reading about WWII, particularly for those of us who need visual aids. Here are two reference works I've found useful:

Allied Armour of World War Two by Ian V. Hogg
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10...
As you can tell by the spelling, Mr. Hogg was British, but don't hold that against him.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft by Enzo Angelucci
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17...
Each section has scale profile drawings of the aircraft, so you can see just how small a Fw-190 was compared to a B-17. It also gives detailed information about the major models various production types.




message 11: by John (new)

John Thompson | 1 comments Folks,

Why the anti-Ambrose feeling? Interested to hear what makes you feel that way.

As far as nonfiction goes, i'm a huge Keegan fan.


message 12: by John (new)

John (Jonti) | 6 comments Personally I really like Ambrose...

Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps I am not... but that is simply my taste and my thought...

Maybe it is cool not to like a successful writer [as with Dan Brown for instance].

Maybe if I were a military historian my views would carry more weight. Then again mabe not!


message 13: by Christopher (new)

Christopher | 13 comments A lot of the abuse towards Ambrose (and even Keegan) revolves around the very American-centric viewpoint of their works in general. I have run into folks who considered themselves knowledgable about WWII because they had seen "Saving Private Ryan" and read "Band of Brothers". When I asked if they'd read anything about the Eastern Front, they'd replied "Why, what did the Russians do? Nothing!"

WWII started over two years before the Americans got involved (or 5 years if you consider the Spanish Civil War, or even more when you look at China). While the American experience and the American contribution is important, it wasn't the center around which the world turned in the 1940s.


message 14: by E.C. (new)

E.C. Blomstrand | 8 comments I have to agree with much of what Christopher says, but I think the average person will believe whatever is presented to them in the most aesthetically pleasing package. I've met people who were unaware there was a Spanish Civil War before seeing "Pan's Labyrinth". Film (next to television) is all too often a medium for the lowest common denominator of culture, but if it succeeds where our educational system failed these people, can it be all that bad?


message 15: by David (new)

David (NameofDog) | 6 comments Christopher,

What books would give the best overview of the Russian's role in WWII? The most gripping reading?


message 16: by Patrick (last edited Feb 12, 2008 10:06AM) (new)

Patrick | 16 comments David,

I'd recommend anything by David M. Glantz for the Soviet-Nazi side of the war, especially his book WHEN TITANS CLASHED.

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16...

He has also written books about the battles of Kursk and Leningrad.

Two simple books I'd recommend to everyone are

(1) the Osprey Publishing Essential Histories book on The Second World War: The Eastern Front 1941-1945. The author of this volume is Geoffrey Jukes. It's only 92 pages, but is simple to follow, has many fantastic maps, and is superb for giving readers unfamiliar with this side of the conflict a taste of the scale and intensity of the battles and operations, which dwarf anything going in any other theater of the war, or any war, for that matter.

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10...

(2) The Time-Life World War II books RUSSIA BESIEGED (by Nicholas Bethell), RED ARMY RESURGENT (by John Shaw), and THE SOVIET JUGGERNAUT (by Earl F. Ziemke). Publsihed in the 1970's, these provide a more detailed view of the Soviet-Nazi side of the conflist but are still fairly easy to follow, and they include many great photos to get a feel for what the conditions were like.


message 17: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 16 comments David,

One other author I'd recommend is Anthony Beevor, who has recently written two fine books on the most well-known aspects of the Soviet-Nazi fight.

Here's Beevor's book on Stalingrad:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54...

And here's his book on THE FALL OF BERLIN 1945:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42...

--------------------------------------------

Another book I've seen (but not yet personally read or browsed) on The Fall Of Berlin is by Anthony Read and John FIsher:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15...

One of the most significant legacies of the Soviet fight against the Nazis is the absolute sheer devastation and destruction that the Soviets inflicted on the German people once they took over any territory in Europe. The books on the fall of Berlin are particularly acute testimonies to that.


message 18: by George (last edited Feb 16, 2008 08:54PM) (new)

George | 116 comments Well, I'd honestly reccomend Rick Atkinson's The Army At Dawn, and his more recent Day of Battle, alhtough it does focus primarily by intent on the US army's development in WWII from the North African campaign through the Italian campaign. The books also focus heavily on the British contributions as well, and gives a lot of credit to the Free French army contribution to the Monte Cassino campaign in particular.

If you can find it, I would also highly recommend Shirer's The Collapse of the Third Republic, the best book I've seen on France up to its collapse in May/June 1940.

While I would agree that the Eastern Front took up the bulk of the fighting in Europe, I think it's difficult to say that the Soviets would have won whether the rest of Europe was involved or not. Among other things, the US contributed a great deal of material support to the Russian Front, including a large amount of the Soviet motor transport. One shouldn't entirely dismiss the fact that the German army lost 250,000 men in Tunisia alone. Or that a very high proportion of the German air force was devoted to staving off Allied air attacks on Germany and Western Europe. None of this is meant to detract from the Soviet effort in any sense.


message 19: by Josh (new)

Josh Liller (Joshism) When I asked if they'd read anything about the Eastern Front, they'd replied "Why, what did the Russians do? Nothing!"

Funny you should mention this as I was just thinking to myself the other day that all the WW2 stuff I have read tends to give little mention to the Soviet-German aspect of the war, especially anything after Kursk.

Any good recommendations for books on 'The Great Patriotic War'?


message 20: by George (new)

George | 116 comments Well, clearly, the Soviets did a bit more than nothing. But I wonder if you asked the average Russian today what the US did in the war, if you'd get a more comprehensive answer? Here's a couple books for you, The 900 Days by Salisbury on the siege of Leningrand, which I particularly like. Also Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan on the fall of Berlin. There are a few new books that the History Book Club is offering now. I'll try to run down the titles although I haven't read them as of yet.


message 21: by Michael (new)

Michael Plaskett | 1 comments For the Soviet front, John Erickson's The Road to Stalingrad and The Road to Berlin are also two great books to read in tandem with Beevor. The detail he provides is impressive. Unfortunately, he does not provide good maps to follow with his excellent detail. I liked Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge to Far. Also, bios on Hitler by Ian Kershaw and end of war books by Max Hastings (Armaggedon and Retribution) were both excellent as well.


message 22: by Perry (new)

Perry | 7 comments Ok, I'm an American...and Ambrose is one of my favotite "coffee table historians"... I started reading him around the time that my Dad died (WWII Navy) so my attachment is more sentimental than academic. Ironically, the book of his that I like the most is Undaunted Courage, about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Whatever his academic failings and his clear pro-American bias, he has "popularized" WWII history and at least introduces the subject to a whole bunch of otherwise "clueless" readers.
Atkinson is good and certainly thorough...to the point where I found Army At Dawn a little tedious. (Not writing term papers anymore!.
D'Este is very good.
Need to try Keagan. I have heard great things about him.
Try Evan Thomas' Sea of Thunder


message 23: by Ian (new)

Ian | 85 comments Perry, If you mean Sir John Keegan, I would thoroughly recommend his books. His First World War book is an excellent & concise history of that conflict. Also recommend his Face of Battle. He was Senior Lecturer in Military History at RMA Sandhurst. Wikipedia has a good brief biographical note - & a bibliography.

Regards

Ian


message 24: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey | 1 comments A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan is very good book about Operation Market Garden and the attempt to cut the war short. It shows the infighting of the generals, the incredible details of the plan.


message 25: by Perry (new)

Perry | 7 comments i will read A Bridge Too Far. Of course, I've seen the movie a thousand times. Pretty good. Thanks for the insight.


message 26: by Sam (last edited Feb 20, 2009 11:06PM) (new)

Sam Jung | 5 comments Hmmm... I think Steven Ambrose is a pretty good writer, though I admit that he's not a overwhelmingly "great" writer as for every one to love him.

My personal favorite is undoubtedly David M. Glantz.
He wrote books like "When the Titans Clashed" and "The Battle of Kursk". Those deal with WW2 and are awesome, but personally my favorites are the ones about the Soviet military strategies, tactical thinking, and etc. I like him because he truly is an expert in his field. He has substantial military experience and he also has been an active member of Slavic military history community.
I love him for his thorough and broad yet acute analysis of the Eastern Front and Soviet military history in general.
Unfortunately though, his tone can be quite dry and boring for some people because he doesn't really put much emotion to his writing (which I consider good at least in his case).

Max Hastings is definitely a worthy writer to check out. But I haven't read many of his writings except for "The Korean War" and that book about Falklands War.

John Keegan is also a great writer, but some of his writings are so tangled up and convoluted I honestly feel dizzy reading the intro. And, his writings on modern wars aren't quite my kind of books; they display too much conservative attitude towards certain groups of people, for me to understand why he would write like that. Still, his writings on pre-modern history, I believe, is superb and very,very insightful.






message 27: by Donald (new)

Donald (donroc) | 10 comments I'd add Shirer's COLlAPSE OF THE THIRD REPUBLIC to the list.


message 28: by George (new)

George | 116 comments Read that a long time ago. an excellent book, and I've never seen the subject covered as well anywhere else.


message 29: by Sam (new)

Sam Jung | 5 comments Is that book("Collapse of the Third Republic") solely a military history book, dealing with purely military events and matters? Or, is it more of a political/military history type of book?

The title interests me.... may be I'll read it a bit later... since I'm reading 3 books currently.


message 30: by George (new)

George | 116 comments Well, it certainly deals with the invasion of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. But, it also deals with the history of the republic after the collapse of the empire after the 1870 Franco-Prussian war and the politics that led up to WWII. Lots of interesting bits of info. The French general staff never properly understood tactical air support, and the air force commanders were left to call up individual units to ask if they had any missions. The French ended the campaign with more aircraft than they had at the beginning as aircraft prodution exceeded combat losses. In the weeks leading up to the invasion, the Belgians reinforced the French border to keep them from moving into Belgium and making them a priority target.


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